PR’s Top Pros Talk… Communicating as a Health-Tech and Tech-Health Company
Stephanie Marchesi, President, WE Global Health
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: STEPHANIE MARCHESI
DOUG: Stephanie, you’ve talked about a significant transformation in the health industry for the last five years. Can you talk a little bit about what that’s about?
STEPHANIE: Sure Doug. So the tech fueled transformation of the healthcare industry began in earnest about five years ago, and it’s only really been accelerating in pace. And in my opinion, I think it’s nothing short of revolutionary. The advancements that we’re seeing being made at the intersection of these two industries, health and tech.
DOUG: Stephanie, can you give us some examples to maybe help set context for the discussion?
STEPHANIE: Sure. Well, I think one that everyone can really relate to is just think about the last 18 months and the enormous adoption of telemedicine so that during the pandemic, when everybody’s been locked down at home, they’ve been able to still get on their phones or their computers and talk to their doctor despite not being able to get there in person. Think another good example is electronic medical records. So, you know, that’s improving so that when you go to your doctor, you know, theoretically, that doctor should be able to access your entire medical history on their computer so that you don’t have to go about repeating the information. Nor does the physician have to make estimates of your care based on partial information.
DOUG: That’s really important. Do you have another example here?
STEPHANIE: I was just going to say, like just think about like your you know, your Fitbit and other devices that are using, you know, and how AI is beginning to turn those into monitors, you know, health monitors, where your doctor is able to get really important and vital information about your care.
DOUG: So there is a sea change happening. What’s the distinction between health tech and tech health? And then we can get into the implications for communicators and trying to reach the public with that information.
STEPHANIE: Sure. So, you know, when I look at a client or a prospect, one of the things that I really look for is to assess whether or not they’re a health tech company or a tech health. Now, this is really my term. This is not necessarily that is out there, but it’s a way of looking at companies to understand their culture, to understand their mindset, their philosophy and the way that they work, because there really is a difference. So in my estimation, a health tech company tends to be those that originated as a health care company. Their founders might be scientists. They’re looking at how technology can be infused into healthcare in order to innovate and do healthcare better. Therefore, they understand the speed at which healthcare innovates. They understand the scientific rigor that’s required. They understand the regulatory pathway. Now, they also tend to be a little bit more cautious and risk averse, and they operate kind of more closer to like a pharmaceutical company. On the other hand, like a tech health company tends to be kind of just the opposite. It’s more of a technology founded company that are looking to kind of to disrupt the traditional health care approach. They’re far more risk takers. They want to do things faster. They want to kind of operate in the same way that they launched tech products.
DOUG: Right. It’s interesting. So now they both have some regulatory responsibilities, obviously. How are they handled differently and how do you coach and advise differently? And by the way, I love that you’ve invented those terms. You can own them, because that really is an intriguing distinction you’re talking about.
STEPHANIE: Sure. Well, the regulatory pathway, is not any different? It’s not any different for either type of company. It’s really just more of the way that they go about it. So health tech companies tend to really understand what the pathway is and what they need to do and the time it takes the investment that they need to make in the research tech health companies. They’re learning. They’re learning as they go along. They may have something really brilliant, but they can’t short step or shortchange the process. And so what I find happens is that tech health companies often want to operate more like a tech company than a healthcare company. So they want to talk more about what the product could do or they want to look for how can we put a product on the market quickly and iterate real time based on real world feedback and experience. A lot like tech like true tech products are launched.
DOUG: That’s really interesting. Now, I’m guessing that you can borrow potentially from the best of both approaches, have the best path forward. So how do you as a communicator, advise clients and get them to be open to doing it? Because it sounds like the cultures are extremely different.
STEPHANIE: Well, sometimes those cultures can clash and oftentimes it’s helping them understand what is expected from them in the industry. So a lot of times they’re looking for a media coverage that the media are not as flexible in. In what they will cover. So sometimes when it comes to clinical trial results or something like that, a tech health driven company will want to say, well, we’re just going to share this little bit or we want to share before it’s published or we’re going to give you preliminary data. But we want to get, you know, on the cover of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times or The Washington Post. And the reality is, is that those media will not cover it because they follow the rigor of the industry and want to make sure that they’ve got the full data set. It’s been published in pure reviewed. The things that like that is not that they won’t compromise on that.
DOUG: Right now, that is an important distinction. But how do you persuade and I think also it’s an important as an agency and you’re the global head of medical for WE a company that was sort of founded and has this perception of being a tech communications company as big part of your is in your blood. What are your tips for one agencies maybe to differentiate from others to be successful in this space?
STEPHANIE: Well, I think that there’s a number of things that you need to do when you are working with, again, whether it’s a health tech company or a tech health, but when you’re talking about technology in the healthcare space. So let’s just unite it together and talk about it all up. You know, when you’re reaching patients or healthcare professionals and health care professionals are still, you know, people, there’s a number of things that you need to do. So something to think about is that it’s important that that we always communicate kind of the philosophies be human to the core. So people have a very little interest in kind of what we call speeds and feeds, the functionality, the how the technology works. What people want to focus on more is for you to speak to them like a human. For you to treat them like a patient and to talk to them more about how the technology is going to improve or change their lives day to day. Bring a lot of emotion to the story.
DOUG: I was going to say and that seems to be different than where people coming from the tech space are used to. As a way of communicating.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, it’s interesting because a lot of people think that you’re going to dive deep into the tech and the idea is rise, bring the tech up, tell it within the framework of a larger emotional story. But that’s what we get through another I think, really important distinction is something that’s that can we refer to as proof over promise. So when you think about the tech industry, they have, for the most part, always been able to talk in great detail and with very successfully about the promise. They paint a picture of what the world will be like when this technology is fully adopted and fully developed and people get inspired and excited and they want to try the technology and they really get behind it. But in health care, it’s about the proof. Show me it’s going to work. Show me the evidence. And so that’s another inherent difference between contec health and health tech, because tech health companies think they can go out and just paint the vision. But health tech companies understand they need to provide, you know, the proof. And so really, it’s about helping those companies understand that the audiences that they need to reach and influence in healthcare require more proof over the promise.
DOUG: Especially for agencies. But this could apply to internal communicators as well. How do you find the balance to communicate the mix of function and purpose that is going on in the healthcare industry with these changes?
STEPHANIE: Absolutely. So technology companies inherently like to talk about the new the cool technology, you know, of their product or their what makes your offering unique. However, what drives healthcare has always inherently been purpose driven. And so healthcare was purpose driven before it became a mandate. So many companies talking about today. So what’s really important is that the people want to understand how their product is advancing healthcare, improving their lives, how you as a company are helping to
make the world a better place. So you can talk about your functionality and what makes you unique in this broader context, but you need to lead with what is the purpose that it serves in the world.
DOUG: Yeah. And Stephanie, I really appreciate your thoughtful approach. Do you have any sort of final tip or piece of advice for other communicators who are trying to navigate the health space while there’s this huge technology transformation going on?
STEPHANIE: I think the most important thing is to think differently. I mean, the healthcare communications industry has not really changed that much in the last 10, 20, even 30 years. The way that we’ve been doing healthcare communications has not evolved that greatly. However, with the transformation of the healthcare industry, it’s really important that we bring more progressive approaches to what has historically been a very traditional industry.
DOUG: And that’s great that you’re leading the way. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your insights.
STEPHANIE: Thank you.